Editor’s note: Naples Daily News columnist and professional organizer Marla Ottenstein has been through a harrowing, expensive and life-changing experience since she was “hacked” last summer. She first wrote about her experience in November. Now she shares some of her insights and the lessons she’s learned.
You never realize how many online accounts you have until you have to shut down an email account you’ve had for 20 years.
Think about it: If you need to change your password, you click “forgot password” and a reset link is sent to your email. Only in this case, the email has been shut down!
Now imagine having to change your username, which in most cases is your email. The only way I can describe the task is to say it’s like singing the national anthem while standing on your head and juggling three very sharp knives all at the same time.
Here are the facts, no matter what anyone tells you: If you’re a victim of identity theft, it will be YOU, and not the criminals, who will suffer – for months! Even if you are able to have the fraudulent transactions completely expunged and your credit history restored, your credit will still be affected, which will naturally translate into higher mortgage rates, higher auto and homeowner insurance rates and higher car loan/lease agreement rates.
Here’s what to do: No, you can’t pay to remove ID from the dark web.
Everything you need to know: Set up your router security to avoid getting hacked by cybercriminals
According to Carrie Kerskie, president of Griffon Force, a Naples, Florida, company specializing in identity theft and restoration: “Everyone has heard of the ‘dark web,’ but a criminal doesn’t need to dig too deep to buy a person’s name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, and all for less than $3. People should assume they’ve already been compromised and take the appropriate steps to minimize the risk of their information being used fraudulently.”
I cannot stress the importance of having as many security measures in place as possible. To help others avoid what I went through, here are some basic things you can do. They won’t necessarily prevent fraud, but they should make you less vulnerable:
1. PASSWORDS & USER NAMES: It’s mind-boggling how many people still use their date of birth, the last four digits of their Social Security number or their numerical street address as a password, making it easy for a criminal to take over their identity. Make your passwords random and complicated.
2. MULTIFACTOR VERIFICATION: Set up multifactor verification on all accounts: bank and credit cards, utilities, cable, internet and both mobile and landline phones. Yes, it’s an extra step, but it’s one I am more than willing to take.
3. TRAVEL NOTIFICATIONS: No matter where you go or for how long, set up travel notifications with your credit card companies and banks. I’m convinced that had my previous credit company not done away with this invaluable service, I wouldn’t have been a victim of such a comprehensive account takeover.
4. TRANSACTION ALERTS: Set up alerts on your bank and utility accounts, ATM/debit cards and credit cards. You can tailor these alerts to your specific needs. As a victim of account takeover, I’ve set up alerts on all purchases exceeding $10, as well as on all overseas transactions and card-not-present transactions.
5. ACCOUNT MONITORING: In addition to transaction alerts, set up online account monitoring for your bank accounts and credit cards, and check your balances every day. If your smartphone has face recognition capabilities, I strongly suggest taking advantage of this unique feature, which will make accessing your accounts easier for you.
6. PURCHASE AN IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION PLAN: The $200 or $300 a year you’ll spend having a protection plan, such as Identity Force or LifeLock, will offset the time, money and energy you would spend if your identity was stolen.
7. CREDIT REPORTS: You are allowed one FREE credit report once a year from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Be diligent in pulling these reports and reviewing them carefully. www.annualcreditreport.com
8. CREDIT FREEZES: There’s no excuse for not placing a FREE security freeze on all three of the major credit-reporting bureaus. Yes, it’s a little inconvenient, especially if you’re trying to get a new credit card, but in this day and age, you’re foolish not to have a freeze in place.
9. PUBLIC Wi-Fi & VPN: Avoid the temptation to use an unsecured wireless network, but if you must, be sure to have a Virtual Privacy Network (VPN) activated on your devices.
If you do have your identity stolen, file a police report as soon as possible and immediately contact the credit bureaus to place a seven-year fraud alert on your accounts. In addition to contacting your financial adviser, bank and credit card companies, and insurance and mortgage companies, you should also contact the IRS and Social Security Administration to inform them that your identity has been compromised.
Naples’ Premier Professional Organizer Marla Ottenstein offers expert organizing, downsizing and time management services for residential and corporate clients.